Firstly, I had previously read an interview with Mr Coben in a newspaper which led me to suspect that he might be a bit of a dick. Now, I love his books and so I’m sure you can see my quandary here. It may seem shallow but, once I’ve developed a dislike for someone, I find it impossible to enjoy their work. I have taken against Nicole Kidman for instance, for absolutely no reason at all, and can’t bear to even contemplate sitting through one of her films. Obviously I didn’t want HC to go the same way as Nicole and so thought it probably best to avoid him.
Secondly, I don’t deal well with proximity to any kind of fame. Don’t get me wrong, I love a bit of celebrity, it’s one of my specialist subject areas, but just not up close and personal. I have countless examples of my inability to cope with fame but one of the most humiliating concerns Kenneth Branagh. He was performing in the stage version of Richard III and, as part of theatre in education, hosting workshops to try and inspire in young people an interest in Shakespeare. The group of teenagers that I took along didn’t have the literacy levels to cope with Janet and John let alone Shakespeare but, fair play to Mr B, he had them engaged and curious within minutes. Sadly, my own conduct was somewhat less impressive. It all started to slip away from me the second he said, “Call me Ken.” I mutated instantaneously into a bumbling, inarticulate buffoon, even the feral youths I had accompanied were appalled by my ridiculousness. God only knows what Kenneth “Call me Ken” Branagh thought but, I comfort myself with the probability that he meets so many weirdos in his line of work, I made no lasting impression.
My final reason for not wanting to go was the thought of the audience. I find those question and answer sessions excruciating. Every time someone asks a stupid question, I suffer from mortification by proxy. In the past I have almost gone into a convulsion at the level of idiocy these kinds of things seem to encourage. I realise I probably sound like an insufferable snob but I can’t help it. Any form of audience participation brings it out in me; I think it could even be an unrecognised medical condition.
As it turned out, my friend was let down by another friend at the last minute and I, unselfishly, without a thought for my own nervous system, stepped into the breach. Luckily, HC has no way of knowing that I suspected him to be a dick but, nonetheless, I feel I should apologise unreservedly for my misjudgement because my suspicions couldn’t have been further from the truth. He was, in fact, so far from being a dick I feel ashamed for even thinking such uncharitable thoughts.
Let’s get down to it then, I’m sure you’re all desperate to know what kind of figure HC cut. Well, my eyes aren’t what they once were and I didn’t have my glasses with me but he looked to be a rather dapper sort. Wearing a suit and a pair of Converse sneakers, he was very tall, healthy looking and confident in a very uniquely American way. I don’t think a Brit could pull that look off and he caused quite a stir in that old library surrounded by quite possibly every librarian in the country.
He endeared himself to me and the army of librarians within seconds, by acknowledging the importance of libraries and the peril that they are in due to underfunding. His subsequent performance was slick and polished but extremely entertaining. I’m sure he does the same routine everywhere he goes but he was charming, warm and funny. The event threatened to get off to a wobbly start when the microphone wouldn’t work properly but he shrugged it off and managed just fine without it. Big deal, you may be thinking, but I saw Jeanette Winterson, who was rude and horrible, at a similar event where she berated, a no doubt minimum waged young man working in a book shop, who hadn’t set the microphone up to her liking. There were none of those shenanigans with HC, he was good manners personified.
He gave us a rundown of his writing career in a way that seemed very supportive of other writers. A man with a lot of good sense, he stressed that everyone is different and what works for one person might not work for another but I will share with you what he did offer. My own favourite moment came when he revealed that he writes everything into a notebook before typing it up. This made my own methods seem less antiquated and freakish especially when he pointed out the benefit of having already completed a second draft with the typing up process. He emphasised how everybody’s writing gets better with practise and, just as with a musical instrument or a sport, it should be practised every day. He was a bit zero tolerance about excuses, like a really good personal trainer at the gym. Not that I have one, you understand, but how I imagine one to be. I can almost hear him bellowing: Get up earlier and write before work! Anything other than writing such as research or pretending to market yourself on Twitter is not writing! The only thing that counts as writing is writing!
What really impressed me about HC was his honesty. I think he said he has written 24 successful novels but is still crippled by self-doubt where his writing is concerned. He described how every time he completes a book, he convinces himself that it isn’t any good. I found this to be very encouraging because I’m sure we all worry that what we write is not good enough. I break out in a cold sweat every time I click on ‘publish live’ where this blog is concerned and can barely bring myself to look at my emails for days anticipating derisive comments. It’s hard to put yourself out there and, if a bestselling author still has these fears and anxieties, then maybe it’s not so bad.
Mercifully, the question and answer session was brief. There was a rude couple who talked all the way through and I found myself willing HC to take them to task but he didn’t. It was touch and go when a woman seemed to be warming to a dubious fixation with one of his characters but HC was a pro and managed to curtail any potential for my mortification by proxy to kick
in. Afterwards, he signed copies of his books and chatted to people but my celebrity phobia meant that I kept my distance. Fear not, however, because I did send my friend on a reconnaissance mission and she reported back that he was just as polite and charming up close. He did write in her book ‘stay awesome’ but I refuse to mock because he doesn’t deserve it.
All in all, it was a very enjoyable hour or so and, if HC comes to your neck of the woods, you could do much worse than go and see him. I liked him so much I now feel compelled to read his new book. In fact, I have stolen my friends ‘awesome’ one and intend to start it now.